Re: Zero – Memory Snow

Firstly, this OVA/Movie isn’t new: it was released back in October 2018…but it’s new for me! And frankly, after one and a half seasons of watching the cast of Re:Zero in chibi form sharing the screen with the casts of 3-4 other isekai shows, it’s a rare pleasure to finally see Subaru, Rem, Ram, Emilia, Roswaal, and Beako in their normal proportions, in a more slice-of-life setting.

While these initial screenshots are disconcerting, one can be rest assured that neither Subie nor anyone else goes through anything horrible or traumatic in this Memory Snow side story; the worst thing that happens is he wakes up to an increasingly cold manor. Turns out the cold is emanating from Puck, who is undergoing Hatsumaki, a periodic semi-controlled bleeding-off of mana. It’s fun to learn that Ram shares Subie’s extreme dislike of the cold.

Subaru’s first date with Lia is postponed until the Hatsumaki is over, but he makes the best of a chilly situation by taking a page from his homeland and organizing a snow festival on the manor grounds. Everyone makes a snow sculpture while Subie, the village elder and Roswaal serve as judges. Even Beako gets in on the action, while Ram and Rem’s collaboration of a Subaru-Roswaal hybrid statue gets middling scores for being so creepy.

At the post-festival banquet, Roswaal cracks open a stash of booze hidden under the floorboards of Subaru’s bedroom. This results in what I believe is our first taste of both Tipsy Emilia and Tipsy Rem, who while unassailably adorable in their playful drunkenness, have limited energy stores and it’s not long before both are using Subie’s lap as a pillow. Ram, on the other hand, can mostly hold her liquor.

The group migrates outside, where Puck expands the Hatsumaki to give the villagers and surrounding lands a lovely late night snowfall; the spirits soon appear, thousand points of light dancing around the sky. Beako and Rem deliver their barbs to Subaru regarding his being named after a star of all things, but by night’s end everyone can jump in bed content after a very full, fun day spearheaded by Barusu.

With Puck’s Hatsumaki waning, the story closes with Subaru and Emilia finally having their date—and Lia unveiling her adorable outfit for the occasion. While this outing lacked its parent anime’s sadistic bite or any measurable stakes, it was a strong affirmation of the real reason why I kept watching Re:Zero, and will be tuning in to its second season: the characters. Subaru, Rem, Emilia & Co. are eminently fun to watch, whether they’re chibis in a high school or playing in the snow without a care in the world.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 02 – An Unusual Golem, A Contented Child

While chasing a horned rabbit who stole her mushrooms, Somali falls and skins her knee. Golem is low on medicine, but they’re fortunate to have caught the attention of Shizuno, a Dwarf Oni healer who is happy to dispense first aid. Two neat points: Golem can converse with any animal or plant, while the black-eyed Shizuno is depicted as kind and friendly despite being a “demon”.

Shizuno even invites Golem and Somali to his house in the forest (I want to go to there) where they meet his assistant and skilled baker Yabashira. Indulging a curious request from Shizuno, Golem agrees to part with a small piece of his crumbling “skin” in exchange for lessons on how to make medicines.

Somali, meanwhile, keeps busy helping Yabashira with daily chores; to the assistant’s surprised. This can-do attitude has a darker side. When we first saw Somali she was in chains; perhaps humankind are more servile in this particular world.

Still, Somali’s love for Golem is plain to see for Yabashira, while Golem basically decribes to Shizuno a similar affection, as he never wants to see her in pain again. Not addressed? Whether either of the oni would change their tune if they knew Somali wasn’t really a minotaur child.

That could be tough, following the revelation that explains Golem’s deterioration: he has precisely one year and 112 days left before his life functions cease. His goal is to return Somali to her parents within that time frame, but with no leads whatsoever—and the high likelihood her parents are dead—that is a tall, probably impossible task.

Thankfully, he hasn’t told Somali about this, and Shizuno and Yabashira both admit that she seems pretty content without her parents whom she most likely never knew. With that in mind, they likely see Golem’s frantic journey to be a futile one that will only take time away from the two of them enjoying what time they have left.

Still, it’s Golem’s journey to make, and Somali will follow no matter where he takes them. She’s almost certainly too young to be taught everything needed to survive in just a year and change, so we’ll see whether he makes any progress tracking down her folks, for if he devises a Plan B, such as leaving her with trustworthy friend like Shizuno.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 01 (First Impressions) – Back to Fantasy Basics Done Right

Golem, Guardian of the Forest, never once doubted his purpose in life: to observe and protect the natural processes of the forest with a minimal of interference. Enter Somali, a human girl in chains he encounters. Suddenly, the parameters of his purpose have changed dramatically, and lacking emotions, he isn’t quite sure why.

What if, a fantasy anime didn’t start with a guy being transported from Japan to a new world? Or if, humans weren’t in charge, and monsters and demi-humans weren’t an oppressed minority? Somali and the Forest Spirit provides a welcome return to classic meat-and-potatoes fantasy slice-of-life, in the best traditions of Studio Ghibli—not to mention Disney.

The premise couldn’t be more elegant: Stoic Golem meets Exuberant Kid. While he teaches her how to live, she teaches him how to feel. But the fact said kid is a human is a big deal in this world. There was a legendary war between humanity and monsters, and the monsters won. Humans became a source of food, then curiosity before all but dying out.

Somali, therefore, is endangered in more ways than one. The sense of dread and imminent danger of revealing her lack of horns (sewed into her hood), as well as when Somali strays from Golem to follow a not-quite cat, brings a nice sharp-but-not-too-sharp edge to the proceedings. So does the fact the Golem’s arm is damanged; he may not be able to protect her from everything.

Still, while there are certainly dangers in store (though they may or may not reach the level of Made in Abyss craziness), the heart of Somali is the never unhumorous repartee between the two leads. Somali talks, well, like a kid should talk (Minase Inori is right in her wheelhouse), while Golem is much more verbose and robotic, as one would expect from a Golem.

With rich and lovely visuals, an appropriately otherworldly yet conventionally-orchestrated soundtrack, a strong central duo with fun dialogue, and just the right amount of inherent danger, Somali and the Forest Spirit checks all the boxes for a MagicalChurlSukui-Approved anime. Onward!

Kabukichou Sherlock – 06 – Cuttin’ The Sun

No mystery to be solved nor rakugo to be performed this week, just a heaping helping of Kabukichou slice-of-life featuring former yakuza Kobayashi and the Irregulars, a gang of kids with nowhere else to go that he helps to keep fed, even when they steal his clothes and draw on him when he passes out from overdrinking. There’s a connection with those two things: Kobayashi left the yakuza because he was too nice.

“Nice” isn’t how you’d describe his former associate, a mid-level thug named Sugimoto who is always in and out of prison. More like, Sugimoto is a deeply weird dude, as demonstrated when the kids find him trying to “cut the sun,” and a lot of other erratic behavior.

He also has an affinity for rapping about himself and “Tama”, as he calls Kobayashi (i.e. “kitty”, referencing his kind heart). When one of the kids steals Sugimoto’s protection money, Sugimoto and his massive brawny pal go after the kids.

Moriarty manages to locate the kids’ HQ, an old bowling alley, and Kobayashi rushes in under another moniker: Torataro. The night Kobayashi “betrayed” his fellow yakuza was when he took pity on a struggling mangaka who owed money.

He was just happy someone in the world cared enough to dream about something bigger. That inspired Kobayashi to become a detective, while his kindness inspired the mangaka to write a story that got published, featuring Kobayashi-like character who protects the weak.

Kobayashi ends up in a potential self-sacrificing spot, but he’s bailed out by Moriarty, Watson, Sherlock, and Kobayashi’s former boss Kaneko and his men, who put Sugimoto in his place. It’s chaotic elements like Sugimoto that underscore the fragile equilibrium of Kabukichou.

That balance of crime and kindness, of trouble and fun, is something that must be protected and maintained lest it slide too far to one end to the other. It’s why Kobayashi intends to give the candy shop owner his protection money back and treat the kids to whatever they want…even if they steal his clothes and draw on him again. You can’t cut the sun, but you can shine a little into the shadows.

Hoshiai no Sora – 02 (Second Impressions)

A sport’a anime’s second episode typically has three goals: introduce each character on the team, demonstrate the protagonist’s value to that team, and explain how the sport works to the viewer. In this regard, Hoshiai no Sora sticks to the script by showing Maki dominate the twenty lap test and rapidly pick pick up the basic tennis swings. And those swings are demonstrated with delicate slow animation. It’s informative, engrossing, high quality fair.

But Stars Align earns another must watch rating because it tackles bullying, homosexuality, child abuse (and how everyone can be oblivious to the warning signs), and the desperate situation an abused spouse must deal with behind the scenes. It tackles each of these points without pretension or being over the top and just wow. This show does not disappoint!

Hoshiai no Sora – 01 (First Impressions)

After smacking him to the ground, Maki’s father delivers a rib-shattering kick to his teen son for good measure. Maki crawls to the corner of his apartment’s brightly lit living room and curls into a shivering ball. His father takes all the money, almost laughing, and walks away. Some time later, Maki silently finishes dinner for himself and his hard working single mother.

Hoshiai no Sora is a well drawn sports anime about a loser tennis club, a transfer student with epic reflexes, and a team captain who must win the summer tournament or lose his club funding. From garden gnomes in front lawns, to heavy-set female characters, its world is richly detailed and lived-in and the people living in it have much more going on than you may first suspect. This show is the true dark horse of Fall Season.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Those Who are Wise Do Not Court Danger

Transfer student Hijiri Mizuki just wanted to blend into her new class quietly and make new friends. Too bad the day she transferred she has an eye infection necessitating an eyepatch. That eyepatch is a veritable target for precisely the opposite sort she wanted to be associated with: those afflicted with chuunibyou.

They include Noda Yamato, who is obsessed with superhero shows and considers himself a low-key hero. To be fair, he and his fellow members of the Hero Club are known for performing acts of kindness and assistance for people. When she can’t come out and tell the friendly class rep Wakase that she wants help making friends (and who can blame her?), Wakase sends Mizuki to their club, who make her their latest client, and she meets more weirdos.

Takashima Tomoki is handsome but only likes 2D girls. The theatrical Nakamura Kazuhiro dresses like Ikari Gendo and believes he’s the spawn of an angel and devil. Tsukumo Rei, well…aside from wearing bright clothes and cat-themed accessories, we don’t learn much about him, except that he’s by far the most standoffish.

Noda plants the seed that the others (excepting Rei) quickly adopt and embellish: Mizuki’s eyepatch is a result of her having yet to awaken the latent powers contained within, and instances of numerous projectiles thrown in Mizuki’s direction (a soccer ball, a rubber flamingo, and a shuttlecock) indicate that “the Agency” is hellbent on eliminating her before her powers awaken.

This is all delusional chuuni nonsense, but concurrent with that investigation, Noba is hard at work making hundreds of paper airplanes to launch from the roof during a school sports event, each with a call to make friends on Mizuki’s behalf. So Noba is trying to help—just in way she finds incredibly embarrassing. Mizuki also learns that Noba is popular due to his considerable sports acumen (and ability to jump from great heights without injury) and Tomoki also has lots of real guy friends.

Once she’s on the field for the sports event, the biggest object yet to threaten her, a basketball hoop, starts to come down after a gust of wind that blows up mere moments after she sneezes, unwittingly dodging another soccer ball, and her eyepatch falls off. From that point on, Noba & Co. believe she’s awakened, but the threat of the Agency lingers, and Nakamura fingering Tsukumo Rei as the mastermind behind the series of attacks. Rei, for his part, smirks as a found-out villain would.

But this is only the beginning! Mizuki didn’t get the group of friends she wanted, but they’re so damn sincere in their delusions, she actually starts to kinda-sorta believe some of their chuuni nonsense. I first heard Mizuki’s seiyu, Akasaki Chinatsu, in Kill Me Baby! a zany, rapid-fire adaptation of a 4-koma comic. In that she was usually the manic comic instigator, but here she expertly plays the exhausted straight-man.

The rest of the cast is equally game, and while their particular chuunibyou antics are nothing I haven’t seen before, I appreciated the various different styles of chuuni bouncing off each other, and the execution and attention to detail are above reproach.

If you’re kinda over depictions of chuunibyou, I wouldn’t blame you; this wasn’t on my initial Fall 2019 list for that very reason! Nvertheless, the heartening and charm-filled Outburst Dreamer Boys is a fun, breezy, better-than-average-looking show I’ll be watching more of, both to see what further antics Mizuki is subjected to, and to find out if she ever gets used to it or—lord forbid—participates in!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 12 (Fin) – The Real Game Begins

The entirety of Takagi 2‘s finale is devoted to the summer festival, as it should be. We start with Nishikata waiting nervously for Takagi, his hands already sweating with anticipation. She arrives positively resplendent in a yukata, nearly bowling him over with her beauty.

As they walk to the festival together, little kids and old people alike see them for what they are: a couple on a date. Nishikata thinks he can win a game in which no adults say they’re on a date, but he has to rely on semantics, and ultimately loses at the candy apple stand.

As the other members of the cast enjoy the festival, Nishikata tries to distract from the fact he’s on a date with Takagi by engaging in one competition after the other, from goldfish scooping to ring toss. He loses at all of them, but Takagi gives him an out: if he does “date stuff” with her, he’ll automatically win.

For once, Nishikata doesn’t want to win, or rather the little timid voice inside him doesn’t want him to fully open himself to the experience. He won’t feed Takagi, but he does give her the gift of a cute hairpin, eschewing the childish toys also available to choose.

On two notable occasions, the large crowds separate Takagi and Nishikata. The first time, he’s able to locate her quickly, but the second almost spells disaster, as they can’t find each other when the fireworks begin. Thankfully, Nishikata’s mate Kimura, with the assist of the episode, directing Nishikata to Takagi’s location atop the shrine steps.

Takagi has to endure the bulk of fireworks all alone, and her face has never been more morose…but when she spots Nishikata running up the steps her face brightens, and meets him halfway down the steps. Sadly, the fireworks end just as they reunite.

Far more importantly to Takagi, Nishikata finally takes her hand into his, unbidden, calmly explaining how it would suck if they got separated, not to mention the steps can be perilous.

DAWWWWWWWWWW

Takagi’s reaction above tells you all you need to know about how much this means to her. Just one episode after he finally asked her out, he mustered the courage to take her hand, and even if it was the practical move, it shows HUGE growth on his part to actually, you know, make it.

They descend the steps hand-in-hand and later we find them playing with sparklers on the beach; unassailably a date thing. Takagi tells him that throughout all the “losses” he’s endured, he’s never really lost, because, well, he has her. Her attention, her affection, her eyes on him.

No matter how you slice it, Nishikata is a winner. And in what I dearly hope will be a third season of this beautiful, uplifting show, perhaps he’ll keep gaining confidence, shaking off his childish hang-ups, and making the right moves. There’s a lot of game left to be played. But if this is the ending to this particular story, I’m glad it ended on a happy note.

Fire Force – 11 – Flowers of Edo

On Captain Oubi’s order, Hinawa regales the newer members of the 8th with the tale of how the 8th got started. Hinawa was a sergeant in the Imperial army at the time (as was Maki, a general’s daughter), and his lieutenant was a kind fellow named Tojo who had his sidearm “baptized” in case he has to put an Infernal to rest.

Well, Tojo is the one to be infernalized, and when the time comes to put him down, Hinawa can’t pull the trigger because his gun isn’t baptized. While off duty, he comes upon the scene of a fire where Oubi, head of the amateur firefighters, takes exception to the Fire Force soldiers who delay putting a docile Infernal to rest because it won’t “score enough points.”

Hinawa and Oubi decide to team up and put the docile Infernal to rest, and Oubi eventually starts the 8th Company as a different kind of Fire Force, one primarily concerned with putting Infernals to rest as respectfully and properly as possible while ensuring the safety of the living.

The company starts with just the two of them, but Hinawa urges Oubi to recruit Maki, whose work ethic, compassion and dedication to her duty make her the perfect match for the company they want to create. When Maki hears this in the present, she’s overcome with happiness, as she initially thought she was just brought in as a “meat shield.”

The reason for all this reminiscing? Aside from the fact it’s fun to learn about how the 8th got started, it was their first call that brings them to the present matter at hand, as it’s likely that the first Infernal they put to rest was artificially created by the Evangelist.

The location of that first call was Asakusa, the jurisdiction of the 7th Company, headed up by Captain Shinmon Benimaru. Beni does things a bit differently too, as his company doesn’t officially answer to the empire, and they dwell and work with traditional technology.

Oubi and the 8th visit the 7th’s HQ unannounced, and meet Benimaru, his lieutenant Sagamiya and two tiny twin fire soldiers Hinata and Hikage. But Beni doesn’t like another company stepping on his turf, and won’t hear them out. Just as Shinra is challenging him to a fight he’ll likely lose, fire bells sound outside—an Infernal has been spotted.

Shinra and the 8th then bear witness to the way Beni does things, as well as demonstrates his compound 2nd/3rd-gen abilities to both create and manipulate flames. He uses them in much the same way firefighters of the hikeshi system of old Edo: to demolish buildings and even entire blocks in order to stop the spread of the fire. His ability just enables him to do it on his own and with great efficiency (not to mention style).

The people in his jurisdiction, much like the people of Edo during those fires, aren’t outraged by the apparent wanton destruction. On the contrary, they know Benimaru is doing what must be done to protect the city, and hope that if they ever Infernalize, he’ll be the one to put them to rest. Fires and the destruction caused to stop them are a fact of life for them. For as the saying goes, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.

Fire Force – 10 – Promises, Promises

With Arthur back, Hibana hanging around feeding Shinra, and Tamaki joining the 8th, the company has never seemed livelier, as noted by both Captain Oubi and Lt. Hinawa. Shinra and Tamaki join those to for a meeting of all eight company Captains before the Emperor of Tokyo.

This is made out to be such a big deal that there hasn’t even been such a meeting the whole time Oubi has been a captain, but like Rail Zeppelin’s Mystic Eyes auction in another show, the actual event itself is pretty underwhelming.

We get a quick peek at all the captains we’ve seen before, but nothing that’s discussed in the meeting couldn’t have been said in a phone conference or email thread. Basically, the emperor wants all the companies working together to find and stop the Evangelist.

What of Shinra? One thing Hoshimiya wasn’t lying about is that Shinra’s flames are what’s called an Adolla Burst, an extremely pure form of flame identical to the ones that power the Amaterasu power plant, as well as those that created the world in which they live (how flames create things, I do not know).

In any case, the captain of the 3rd Company wants to “secure” Shinra (i.e. make him a test subject) since the Evangelist is likely after Adolla Bursts like his. Oubi manages to assure everyone the 8th will continue to keep him safe, though right after saying that he leaves Shinra on his own.

The Joker shows up, but not for a fight. He tells Shinra that his brother Shou is not only still alive, but is the commander of the “white-clad” Knights of the Ashen Flame, who serve the Evangelist. After acting sullen and awkward for most of the day back at the station, he finally tells the rest of his company mates after a family meal.

Even if I’m not super-excited about Shinra having to go up against the brother he once thought to be dead (this kinda angle is done to death), what I did like about this episode is that it re-established the 8th as one big family, and I liked the warm quiet scenes where they’re all just working or eating.

I’m also glad Shinra didn’t keep the news about Shou secret, due in large part to the sense of family and trust he feels from everyone…even Arthur.  As for how Tamaki suddenly ended up naked but for a pink apron when she and Maki tried (and failed) to start dinner…I’ve got nothin’.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 11 – A Big Catch

In a desperate attempt for a win, any win, Nishikata manages to find out from Takagi’s friend that she’ll be walking down a certain road at a certain time, and arranges for a game to guess the steps to a certain spot.

Thinking more than one step ahead for once, he correctly predicts she’ll call for a further target, but he’s such an open book she changes it again, demonstrating that thinking just two steps ahead won’t cut it if you want to beat Takagi!

Still Takagi had fun, and is flattered that Nishikata would go so far to win a game, and asks what he wants her to get him as a souvenir on her family vacation. Later, Takagi’s friend can tell from her face “something nice happened.”

When Takagi is back, she presents Nishikata with another great gift: a 100% Unrequited Love-themed curry kit. He also went on vacation, and surprises her with a gift of cookies. Little does she know they’re sour cookies. When she suggests they go to the shrine to enjoy their gifts together, it’s the perfect chance to see her distressed, puckered face…

…But on the way there, Takagi expresses her happiness so genuinely, Nishikata has no choice but to warn her ahead of time. Turns out the cookies are actually pretty good. Takagi also uses their shrine visit to tell him she had her family vacation shortened so she could go to the upcoming summer festival.

Nishikata isn’t planning to go with anyone, and neither is Takagi, so she tells him in no uncertain terms that if someone asked her to go, she would—someone she teases all the time, for instance. Knowing him all to well, Takagi provides him with everything he needs…all he has to do is, well, ask her out.

The subtle animation really shines in this scene, conveying Takagi’s nervousness as she adjusts her legs and stretches her trembling hands, matching Takahashi Rie’s superb voice work.

Asking Takagi out is one of the hardest things Nishikata has ever had to do, because it pretty much throws out the window the fiction that, as he’s so fond of saying, “it isn’t like that” between them. When the two run into each other on the street and he offers to carry her groceries in his bike basket, the atmosphere gets more and more awkward as he utterly fails to speak up and say the words that need to be said.

I really can’t overstate how much tension is built up as they walk up to her house and say goodbye and he starts to walk away, without asking her out. Her usual cheerful smile vanishes, replaced by a look of resignation…she tried her best. But then she hears his bike returning, and the shy sonofabitch finally, finally asks her if she wants to go to the summer festival with him.

The answer, of course, is yes, and in her elation she tosses more canned drinks into his arms before he heads off to fish with his mates. Nishikata doesn’t get to see her adorable quivering look of relief and joy as he pedals off. Now this is how you build anticipation for the twelfth and final episode!

While fishing, even when he gets a bite on his line he doesn’t notice, as he’s in a kind of trance state. Not surprising, as he’d already snagged the biggest catch of his life.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 10 – The Wrong Idea is the Right Idea

Whether by sheer chance or calculation as a result of her enduring affection for him, Takagi has been finding ways to progressively inch (or rather senchimetoru) a little bit closer to him. Her slow but steady pace exhibits sensitivity to the fact he’s still pretty childish.

While he’s just not quite at the stage of adolescence where he’s willing to be openly honest about his feelings for her, the pace could also be fine for her; after all, she’s had ample opportunities to push a little harder and further, but has remained immensely patient and incremental.

Knowing his patterns and habits is one way to get closer. She knows full well he was up late watching 100% Unrequited Love, so brings in some eye drops. When he can’t get the drops in without blinking, she offers to help, and tickles him into opening his eyes.

Then they switch places, and when Yukari (who already has her suspicions about the couple) enters the classroom it sure looks like they’re about to kiss. Yukari relays this to Houjou, who has a look but sees nothing untoward; then Yukari declares it a “scoop” but Sanae and Mina correct her; if she’s not sure what she saw it can’t be a scoop.

Whoever saw Takagi and Nishikata and whatever they think they saw, Takagi doesn’t mind, even if Nishikata still does. If the whole school manages to become comfortable with them as a pair before he does, so be it!

Takagi likely anticipates another opportunity to be close with Nishikata, as they engage in an after-school game of one-on-one hide-and-seek. She correctly predicts that despite the large field and long count, Nishikata will hide close by, and sure enough, she finds him behind a pair of oil drums.

What neither of them expected was for another couple to show up: Hamaguchi and Houjou, AKA “the ‘mature’ classmate.” Nishikata and Takagi play voyeurs for a bit as the other couple interacts in a way they probably wouldn’t if others were around.

Then Takagi makes her move, telling Nishikata that if they’re caught behind those drums, it’s better if what the others are assuming is the truth. Drawing closer and closer, Nishikata finally bails out, and he and Takagi have to awkwardly say hi, while Nishikata tells them they were just playing hide-and-seek, which, while the actual truth, probably sounds like a lie to Houjou and Hamaguchi.

At this point Nishikata is ready to head home to train for future teasing, but Takagi finds what looks like a treasure map on the ground, and he’s wrapped up in another roving adventure with her. The map eventually leads them to a tree that has a pair of names carved into the trunk. Takagi presumes it was the spot where a couple had their first kiss.

Hearing that, Nishikata wants to flee again, but Takagi suggests they sit down under the tree and enjoy the shade and gentle breeze. Out in the open yet all alone in a secluded, safe place known as the site of another first kiss, it looks like as good a place as any for Takagi to attempt to solicit her and Nishikata’s first kiss.

It’s certainly on Nishikata’s mind as she draws nearer and nearer…but she whips out her phone and headphones instead, asking if he’ll listen to some music with her. After playing him a recording of cats fighting outside her house last night, she pops one earbud into his ear so they can listen to the song that plays over the end credits together.

Sharing earbuds may not be a first kiss, but it is another first, and another centimeter closer. To quote Nishikata: “Crap, I really can’t compare with her, can I?” Nope!